Recalling My Past at Ancient Peaks

The drunken cyclist | By Jeffrey M. Kralik, Ph.D. –

Karl Wittstrom, owner.

While I grew up in the heart of suburbia, my mom came from a long line of farmers, and we would spend most of our vacations on one of the farms helping to feed, milk or herd the livestock. Sure, my siblings and I all professed to hate it, seeing it as a fate worse than death.

At some point in my childhood, we stopped making those long drives out to “the country,” and I eventually came to the realization that I missed that time spent with my grandfather riding along in his tractor, bailing hay, even the smell of manure.

A couple of weeks ago on a trip to Paso Robles, part of the Central Coast wine region in California, it all came rushing back to me. Sure, I visited some of the familiar spots with their elaborate tasting rooms and refined “tasting experiences.” But it was my trip to Ancient Peaks that caused me to recall all of those summers as a youth down on the farm.

Ancient Peaks Chardonnay.

I met up with founding winemaker Mike Sinor and one of the co-owners of Ancient Peaks, Karl Wittstrom. It was the latter that evoked all of those memories within me. With his deep baritone voice and weathered hands populated with sausage-like fingers, Karl was captivating with a few stories (which no doubt are a part of a lengthy anthology) of his upbringing in the Paso Robles area.

The story flowed from the beginnings of the Santa Margarita Ranch (it was founded before the American Revolution and is one of the oldest continually operated cattle ranches in the country) to how the Robert Mondavi himself was the first to recognize the potential of the site to grow high quality wine grapes.

It was the Mondavi family, in fact, who eventually convinced the then owners of Santa Margarita Ranch to lease the family several hundred acres to establish the Margarita vineyard. A few years later, Karl and a couple of partners purchased the Ranch, and a couple of years after that, they bought out the original lease and quickly founded Ancient Peaks Winery, with the name honoring the Santa Lucia Mountains that tower over the vineyard.

While Karl and the story of Ancient Peaks had me fondly remembering my youth, it was the quality and affordability of the wines that quickly brought me back to the present. We tried the wines over a delicious lunch in the Ancient Peaks Café (a must stop on any visit to Paso) and I have to say that I was impressed with the entire range from entry-level to wine club exclusives.

Here are a few of the wines that are widely available in Texas at many H-E-B, Kroger, and Whole Foods locations:

2021 One Stone Rosé of Pinot Noir

Retail $20. On the dark side for rosé, with darker red fruit (cranberry) and a violet component. Big fruit, nice acidity, good balance. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2021 Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc

Retail $18. Tart, fruity, tart, mineral, tart, salinity – did I mention tart? Mouth-watering and great on its own, but this even better with food. Excellent. 91 Points.

2020 Ancient Peaks Rosé

Pale salmon color with a fruity, yet also meaty nose with dark cherry predominate. Fruity, fun, with some depth and body. Excellent. 90 Points.

2021 Ancient Peaks Chardonnay

Retail $18. Chardonnay with a splash of Viognier (4%). Under screwcap. Plenty of fruit, brilliant acidity and verve, this wine punches well above its weight. While this wine did some see some oak, it is clearly in the background as the fruit is clearly the focus. Excellent. 90 Points.

2020 Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon

Retail $25. Quite fruity with oodles of blackberry, plum, black raspberry and even cassis. Throw in some violet, hints of tobacco, a lovely tartness, plenty of depth and a lengthy finish. $25? It’s a steal.  91 Points.

2018 Ancient Peaks Petit Verdot

Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge Red Blend.

Retail $50. Dark berry fruit, mocha, cigar smoke, violet and eucalyptus. Yes, it is big, brooding, even bodacious, but there is an acidity that holds it all together. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2018 Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon

Retail $60. Rich and brooding, laden with dark fruit (cassis, plum, blackberry), mocha and earth. This wine is particularly compelling. 94 Points.